Following father's footsteps: Josh Giddey's leap to NBA in eyes of former Adelaide 36ers GM

Pijus Sapetka
Daily Writer
2022-06-29 07:00
Credit: AFP - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration/M.DidÄ—
Credit AFP - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration/M.DidÄ—

It's no secret that the National Basketball League (NBL) is a professional league full of grown men. Most of the starters in a majority of the teams are veteran players, U.S. imports, and established Australian national team members.

The likes of Matthew Dellavedova, Chris Goulding, Nathan Sobey, Duop Reath, Mitch Creek, and Cameron Bairstow speak for themselves.

It's the league where young guys have to show up, be mentally and physically prepared to succeed, and use the division as a stepping-stone career opportunity for NBA dream to come true.

Free throws this season

Points made: 15,0
Accuracy: 75,5%
Place in standings: 30
Record max: 30
Record min: 5
Most made FTs: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

The most recent example of a shining young star in the NBL involves Josh Giddey. A player who later excelled in the NBA and entered All-Rookie Second Team during his first year in the strongest basketball league worldwide.

Giddey signed with the Adelaide 36ers at the age of 17 as a part of the NBL's Next Stars program to develop NBA draft prospects. He became the first Australian player to participate in the new project.

Credit FIBA

The Aussie sensation chose to learn professional basketball the hard way, among rock-solid athletes and arguably in the most physical league on the planet.

The simple question: Why?

Josh Giddey could have easily gone to college or NBA G League, as many players at his age do. Instead, he turned down the offers from several top NCAA programs.

Jeff Van Groningen, the former General Manager of the Adelaide 36ers, who recruited Giddey to the team, has an explanation, but it's more complicated than it might seem.

It all started with Josh's father. Warrick Giddey played 449 NBL games for the Illawarra Hawks and then-named Melbourne Tigers (now Melbourne United).

The Melbourne Tigers great won two NBL championships with the club in 1993 and 1997. Warrick Giddey's number 6 was retired by the Tigers, and his jersey hangs in the rafters of John Cain Arena in Melbourne.

Van Groningen, an experienced basketball executive, had a close-up look at Warrick, as he was the GM of the Tigers at that time too. Van Groningen has presided 4 out of the 10 NBL teams during his 25-year tenure in the Australian league.

It's no surprise then that his knowledge of the NBL is comprehensive. His history also allows him to note some common traits between Josh and his father.

"First of all, it's the family connection with me. I was actually a very young general manager of Warrick's team when he still played at Melbourne Tigers," Van Groningen told BasketNews. "I knew Josh's parents – they both played professionally – and I knew Warrick's game very well. His game was based on thinking and IQ, he knew what needed to be done on the floor at any given time to make his team function."

"Warrick wasn't 'talented' offensively like Josh, they have different games. But one thing they shared was the basketball IQ and a team-first approach that is all about making other players better.

So, I had seen Warrick play a long and successful NBL career, and when his son started coming through as an elite level junior, I was hearing good things about him all the way through in Melbourne," Van Groningen continued.

The positive feedback, discussions with Josh Giddey's agent Daniel Moldovan and the family connection were all factors leading to the Adelaide 36ers making a move. A rebuilding franchise now had a chance for an exciting reset, if they could just secure this young marquee player for the NBL 2021 season. 

"As Josh got a little older, he was getting to stage where he would need to decide which path to choose: whether college, G League, or a pro in the NBL," the executive recalled the start of 2020.

Giddey was leaning towards the college basketball, realizing the pro door will always be open, whereas the college door closes. However, there came the recruiting skills of Jeff Van Groningen.

"At one point, Josh was really interested in going to college, and he even did a tour at the University of Colorado," the experienced GM uttered. "There were many other colleges interested in him. He looked like he may even get to the States and do a college path."

"But that was around the time when I was involved in conversations with Daniel Moldovan. My feeling was that if we could give Josh a genuine opportunity at Adelaide, make sure he would actually get a chance to play and utilize his skills, we were a shot of signing him."

Words were combined with actions. The 36ers shaped an environment to grow the gem by giving all the game reigns into his hands. Giddey was offered the primary ball-handler position, which worked out perfectly. Adelaide locked down one of the hottest Australian basketball rising stars.

"At Adelaide, we didn't recruit over the top of Josh. The point guard position was his and Josh would get a chance to run the team at that spot. That's what we did. We laid that out as a plan. Told him that he would have a chance to play, and we wanted him to commit. The family connection helped once more.

Josh did his research, and he worked out what he wanted to do. He wanted to turn pro, come to Adelaide, and run that team. The rest is history. He came in, did a great job, had a great season, and opened a lot of people's eyes. Everything took off from there," Van Groningen recalled.

While Van Groningen's short stint with the club didn't include a postseason appearance, it was headlined by Josh Giddey joining the franchise for NBL21. The intriguing prospect fulfilled the expectations. Giddey was showcasing his NBA-level skillset every time he stepped on the NBL floor.

The 6-foot-8 (2.03 m) guard averaged 10.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 1.1 steals while shooting 42.7 percent from the field and 29.3 percent from the 3-point range through 28 games (32 minutes).

He became the youngest Australian to record a triple-double, in fact doing so three times all in the space of two weeks.

After such a campaign, plenty of eyes in Oklahoma had fallen upon former Adelaide guard, who went at No. 6 in the 2021 NBA Draft.

The Thunder were stunned by every single strength Van Groningen saw before bringing Josh to the capital city of South Australia: vision, basketball IQ, quick decisions, ball-handling skills, ability to control the tempo, and so on.

All in all, Giddey emerged as a true floor general.

"Obviously, the thing that sets Josh apart is his elite-level passing. And elite-level passing is driven by elite-level IQ. That's something that I don't think you can really coach, not now.

It's something you grow up with. Especially when you've had the family background that he had and when you grew up around the game like he did," Van Groningen declared, noting some of the intrinsic points of difference Giddey possesses.

Josh Giddey's game has translated seamlessly from the NBL to the NBA. In January, the 19-year-old Aussie became the youngest player to register an NBA triple-double. However, a hip injury ended his season ahead of time with a stat line of 12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 7.6 assists over 54 matches (all starts).

He led all NBA rookies in assists per game, ranked second in rebounds and seventh in points. Giddey was the only rookie this season to register at least 650 points, 400 rebounds, and 300 assists.

His total number of four triple-doubles tied Jason Kidd for the sixth-most triple-doubles by a rookie in NBA history. Giddey recorded three consecutive ones from February 12 to February 16, joining Oscar Robertson as the only two rookies in NBA history to record three straight triple-doubles.

Despite the solid individual numbers, his Oklahoma City Thunder had a sloppy season finishing with the fourth-worst record in the league (24-58). However, just like Adelaide a couple of years ago, OKC are facing a massive rebuild.

Meanwhile, Van Groningen stepped down as a GM of the Adelaide 36ers during the 2021-22 NBL season. His relationship with Giddey remains strong with business collaboration and marketing being key focal points.

NBL turned out to be the best pathway for Josh Giddey to chase the NBA dream, but Van Groningen remained humble. While talking to the official NBL website back in 2020, Van Groningen admitted that recruiting highly depends on the athlete himself.

"As I've always said about any player that you're lucky enough to recruit: it's usually just the player. The player usually gets all the credit for what he does on the floor, and rightly so, but often doesn't get the credit for the recruiting process.

I just think it comes down to a player having an understanding of what he is heading into and whether the club fits what he is hoping to do. I think there was a large part of that with Josh Giddey."

Giddey is not the only big name Van Groningen has linked with in recent years. He introduced Filipino prospect Kai Sotto to Adelaide and brought Andrew Bogut back to Australia as a recruit at Sydney Kings.

He believes Giddey and a select group of his peers shine brightly as the future of Australian basketball.

"Josh, together with Dyson Daniels and Tyrese Proctor, are the future. It's a strong group," Van Groningen concluded.


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